Nielsen: Health is coming home for the holidays

 SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — According to Nielsen analyses issued Thursday, higher consumer confidence levels, increased impulse buying and consumer intent to spend more could all lead to an upside surprise in 2012 holiday spending. 

For sales in 89 categories across five key departments (food, beverages, alcohol, health/beauty and homecare), Nielsen is forecasting spending for November and December 2012 to reach $98.3 billion. Nielsen expects dollar sales to increase 2.3% and unit sales to remain generally flat (0.1%). 

“With nearly a quarter of consumers indicating they have already started their holiday shopping by mid-September, I expect ‘pragmatic enthusiasm’ to inch spending levels higher than last year,” stated James Russo, VP global consumer insights, Nielsen. “Overall, this could be a season to celebrate.  Nielsen’s Consumer Confidence Index is the highest since before the recession. Planned shopping-list usage is down so impulse buying could be up, and shoppers across the income spectrum say they plan to spend more in multiple areas.”

The continued success of fresh produce (expected holiday sales and unit growth of 4.6% and 3.7% respectively) seems to signal more health-conscious consumers and homecooking this holiday season, Nielsen stated. Traditionally, popular holiday food categories could also do well, including nuts (7.5% dollar growth and 15.1% unit growth) and jams/jellies/spreads (7.1% dollar and 1.1% unit growth expected).

Vitamins will be a bright spot across health and beauty with dollar (9%) and unit (9.2%) growth figures better than most items in the five-category analysis. Cosmetics could also do well, with an expected boost of 4.8% in dollars and 2.3% in unit growth.

Pet care will be another growth sector; Neilsen predicts pet owners will drive 5.9% dollar and 3.1% unit growth. The rest of home care, including cleaning and households products — even holiday wrapping paper — will see modest, price-driven dollar gains and unit sales declines.

On the topic of gift-giving plans, Nielsen’s Holiday Shopping Survey revealed gift cards and technology products tied for the lead (11% each) as products respondents plan to spend more on this year. With the exception of jewelry, every category, including toys, apparel, video games, books, cookware/kitchen and sporting goods showed modest improvements in consumer plans to buy more than in years past. 

The number of respondents saying they plan to spend more with online retailers leads all channels at 18%, up from almost 13% last year. Consumers saying they’ll spend more at mass merchandisers doubled this year to 12% in 2012, from 6% in 2011 and 2010.

Although almost 6-out-of-10 consumers reported plans to spend the same as last year, there is a 10-point drop (from 37% in 2011 to 27% in 2012) in the number of people expecting to spend less. As many as 8% of respondents reported plans to spend more this holiday season, up from 5% in 2011 and 2010.